Hail, Glorious Saint Patrick, dear saint of our isle
On us, thy poor children, bestow a sweet smile
And now thou art high in the mansions above
On Erin’s green valleys look down in thy love,
Father F. W. Faber
Saint Patrick, Apostle of Ireland, was born near Dumbarton, in Scotland, in the year 387. When he was about sixteen, Patrick was taken captive by Irish marauders and sold as a slave to a chieftain. For six years he was a shepherd in the valley of the Braid and on the slopes of Slemish.
He relates in his “Confessions” that during his captivity while tending the flocks he prayed many times in the day. “The love of God”, he wrote, “and His fear increased in me more and more, and the faith grew in me, and the Spirit was roused, so that, in a single day, I have said as many as hundred prayers, and in the night nearly the same, so that whilst in the woods and on the mountain, even before the dawn, I was roused to prayer and I felt no hurt from it, whether there was snow or ice or rain; nor was there any slothfulness in me, such as I see now, because the Spirit was then fervent within me.”
Patrick’s captivity became a preparation for his future apostolate. He acquired a perfect knowledge of the Celtic tongue in which he would one day announce the glad tidings of Redemption. His master, Milchu, was a Druid high priest, and this allowed Patrick to become familiar with all of the details of Druidism.
After six years, on the advice of an angel, Patrick fled from his master. He traveled until he found a ship ready to set sail. In a few days he was in Britain, but now his heart was set on devoting himself to the service of God in the sacred ministry. He went to France where he joined Saint Germain, bishop of Auxerre, and put himself under the bishop’s guidance and was ordained to the priesthood. Saint Germain was sent by the pope to Britain to combat the Pelagian heresy, and took Patrick with him to be one of his missionary companions in Rome.
Pope Saint Celestine I, who had called the Council of Ephesus to address the Nestorian and Pelagian heresies, sent Patrick as a missionary to Ireland on the recommendation of St. Germain. On his journey from Rome, Patrick was consecrated bishop by St. Masimus at Turin, then returned to St. Germain in Auxerre to prepare for the missionary journey to Ireland.
His arrival in Ireland (ca. 433) was greeted with opposition from Druid chieftans. He returned to Dalaradia where he had been a slave to pay the price of ransom to his former master, and to bring him to Christ but as he approached he saw the castle burning in the distance. The word of Patrick’s miraculous powers had preceded him, and the frenzied Milchu gathered his treasures into his mansion, set it on fire, and cast himself into the flames. An ancient record adds: “His pride could not endure the thought of being vanquished by his former slave.”
The druids and magicians fought to maintain their control over the Irish, but Patrick’s prayer and faith triumphed. On Easter Day 433, after winning the Irish Chieftains over to Christianity, Saint Patrick is said to have plucked a shamrock to explain by its triple leaf and single stem the Blessed Trinity. This trefoil, called “Patrick’s Cross,” became the symbol both of the saint and of Ireland itself